Friday, December 4, 2020

AFTER THOUGHTS – On Following Fool and So-called Servant-Leader Now Former CEO of Briggs & Stratton Todd Teske Down The Rat Hole


Some quotes from the September 28, 2020 WISCONSIN EXAMINER:  Briggs & Stratton’s demise: greed, mismanagement, blaming others

“Just days before filing for bankruptcy in July, Milwaukee’s Briggs & Stratton Corp., at one time the largest producer of small engines in the world and employer to 11,000 union production workers making a solid, middle-class living, handed its top executives $5 million in bonuses, calling them “retention awards.” 

“Like vultures picking a carcass clean, these bonuses in the run-up to bankruptcy have become an all-too-frequent way for corporate executives to gift themselves with one last, egregious payday before stiffing their workers and creditors.”

“The story of how Briggs got to this point is a morality tale about modern American industrial capitalism. Briggs embodies the anti-union race to the bottom characterized by contempt for hourly workers, mismanagement and misjudging markets.” 

“Declining sales, looming debt payments, then the COVID-19 pandemic  with its dramatic drop in lawnmower sales all combined to finally push the company into Chapter 11. Sales for the second quarter of 2020 were down by $107 million, or 18%, over the same period last year. The third quarter results are expected to be even worse.” 

“Despite obvious mismanagement, Briggs’ board of directors in July made “cash retention awards” of $1.2 million to CEO and Chairman Todd Teske, $600,000 to Senior VP Mark Schwertfeger and lesser amounts to other executives. Although the new owners abruptly dismissed Teske on Sept. 22, he could still hang on to some or all of his $8.8 million golden parachute, bankruptcy attorneys suggested to the Milwaukee Business Journal.”

“The day before filing for bankruptcy, Briggs’ board voted to terminate the health and life insurance benefits of the company’s retirees. Then, in late August, Briggs and the United Steel Workers local 7232 (the successor to AIW 232) agreed to a severance package for the workers who will lose their jobs. Most will get less than $5,000.”

“Briggs’ demise has, in reality, directly resulted from its executives’ mismanagement, greed and pathological animosity towards the unionized workers who had made them rich.”



Tuesday, November 24, 2020

STOP FOLLOWING THE LEADER – Even If He Claims to Be Ecological


I have decided to put an end to my life long trivial pursuit of following-the-leader.  One of the signs that it was time for this divorce came to me this summer while I was out for a walk with my wife.  We had stopped by a mountain stream to soak our feet, and I noticed a group of preteen boys jumping into a pool in the river upstream from us.  I was a bit confused about why one after another the boys would take turns launching themselves from a large rock and leap into the air, where they then contorted their bodies in such a way that when they reached the water surface their faces and crotches smacked into the water in what appeared to be a very painful impact. 

At first, I thought maybe the poor kids were in need of some diving lessons.  Then I saw a group of similar aged girls on the shore of the river who seemed to mostly be ignoring the antics of the boys, and I wondered if the painful water flops were some sort of attempt to catch the girl’s attention.  But then it dawned on me as I watched the boys one after another repeat a new version of the twisted-plop, that the boys were simply following the rules for that profound childhood game of Follow-The-Leader. 

You would think the pain and humiliation of repeatedly playing this game would be enough for a growing boy to find something better to do with his time.  But like the boys in the game, I have had a hard time letting go of what has amounted to a lifetime of basically following fools.  Twenty years ago, I even got a leadership related masters degree, somehow thinking that if I better understood the theories behind the leader, than perhaps the game would come to hold greater meaning for me.  Once I graduated, I even figured I would find a job where I could work for a more enlightened leader, or perhaps even join the ranks of the hallowed leaders myself. 

Eventually, I did figure out that 30 years or more of being a professional follow-the-leader-er did have some rewards, and I was able to quit my paid gaming days and live off the pension my life of folly had provided me with.  However, like all professional game players, I have had a difficult time just sitting on the sidelines watching everybody else continuing to get smacked around, because their leaders instructed them to do so.  So, I continued to look for ways to get back into the game, on a volunteer basis.  I clung to the idea that maybe there could still be good leaders, who were guided not by the paycheck, but by looking out for the people, and the planet. 

After some extended, long winded efforts to prove that leaders could indeed be worthy of following, I realized that in a healthy ecosystem, there really are no leaders.  None of the participants need to be told or guided by some more powerful or wiser entity how to behave.  They quickly learn to get along, and any smackdowns they might receive reminded them to cooperate with the other players, or suffer the ultimate penalty, which is ejection from the ecosystem in one form or another. 

I am not sure where this conclusion will take me, but my experiments in ecological-leadership have hopefully come to an end.  I post this final summation of my findings not to tell anybody else what to do, but hopefully to remind myself that if I am feeling like I was smacked in the face and groin again, it is likely the result of picking up my old habits and following some fool.  For anyone interested in finding out where this fool has gone, you may follow any of my newfound foolish antics I feel like sharing at my Places I Am blog.  

Note to self - so long follower, and may your journeys always be guided by yourself, and not some fool like me.  

Thursday, December 12, 2019


What Are Peoples Highest Priority Needs and How Are They Manipulated To Increase Profits as Told By Servant Leadership Prophets?

In the last part of this discussion on the servant-leader practices of corporate CEO’s, I introduced Robert Greenleaf’s “best test” of the servant-leader.   Before I get into testing Todd Teske’s servant leadership claim, it is important to take a bit of a detour to delve into what is meant when Greenleaf suggested in his “best test” that the difference between leader-first and servant-first leaders is manifested “in the care taken by the servant first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served”.  I would also like to point out the other side of this, that the leader first would manifest themselves by revealing how their practices deny other people’s highest priority needs from being served.  The critical part in this best test is understanding what is meant by “people’s highest priority needs”. 

I am not aware of Greenleaf explaining in detail what he meant by “people’s highest priority needs”, perhaps he took it for granted that these needs were obvious.  Greenleaf’s lack of explanation might play a role in why when many professors of servant leadership write or talk about their own takes on the path to servant leadership, they will often cite Greenleaf’s best test and then ignore the reference to serving peoples highest priority needs.  At best, they tend to go off on a tangent about what they think the path to servant leadership is, leaving Greenleaf’s thoughts on the shelf. 

Typically these tangents include suggestions to:  wash people’s feet or follow other examples of some other religious, or corporate, or management consultant guru who will deepen the followers spiritual life; love the people they serve by performing acts of charity or martyrdom; become a better listener; hold more brainstorming type meetings; love their wife and children; refer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in order to become a more enlightened leader; or simply follow other aspects of their unique outline or esoteric flow chart to becoming a servant leader.  Although these tangents can lead to interesting reading, they mostly distract the reader (or listener) from really understanding what it means when people’s highest priority needs are satisfied and what the consequences are when they are not. 

Another possible explanation for ignoring the call to empower people to meet their own high priority needs in the corporate world might be the impact that that sort of behavior would have on the corporation’s bottom-line ability to generate profit and grow, but then again maybe that is just more distracting conjecture on my part.  Ignorance is not however an excuse for laziness when it comes to exercising Greenleaf’s “best test”, so it is worth some more effort to clarify what constitutes a high priority need. In order to get back on track, I will go off on my own tangent and provide an explanation that I believe is an effective model to understanding how best to serve people’s highest priority needs.

The best source I have found on defining human related needs comes from one of my favorite economic gurus, Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef.    Max-Neef outlined what he believed constituted human needs in his book HUMAN SCALE DEVELOPMENT.  Max-Neef’s ideas on human needs were a response to trying to address development problems in Latin America that he believed were related to economic policies imposed on it from its northern economic super-powered neighbors to the north.  These policies did little to promote self-sufficiency of the Latin American people and instead indebted them as a means to ensure the growing wealth of the leadership of the super-powered neighbors.  As a possible solution to what he termed “a world in crisis”, Max-Neef proposed what he called Human Scale Development, which focused on “satisfaction of fundamental human needs, on generation of growing levels of self-reliance, and on the construction of organic articulations of people with nature and technology, of global processes with local activity, of the personal with the social, of planning with autonomy”.  

As an alternative to the pillaging and plundering that was typical of the economic system that dominated the world in order to increase the profits of the privileged, Max-Neef proposed an economic system designed to serve nine real human needs: Subsistence, Protection, Affection, Understanding, Participation, Idleness, Creation, Identity, and Freedom.  Unlike Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, there is no hierarchy in Max-Neef nine needs, with the satisfaction of each need just as important as all the others. 

Each of these needs than has four attributes or ways in which the need needs to be satisfied: Being, Having, Doing, and Interacting.  From this there can be a large range of options in how that need might be satisfied by what Max-Neef calls the satisfiers.  For example, the Subsistence/Being need might be satisfied by the human who achieves physical, emotional, and mental health; Subsistence/Having by obtaining food, shelter, and work; Subsistence/Doing by working, feeding, procreating, clothing, resting, and sleeping.  Max-Neef summarized this concept of human needs in what he called the Matrix of Human Needs and Satisfiers.  The possible satisfiers of the human needs could be quite large in theory, with some being more effective than others in satisfying the need in question.  

Satisfiers of the needs are categorized into one of five types:  

Synergic – satisfiers that in the process of satisfying one need also satisfy or help to satisfy other needs.  Community gardens where people have access to land to grow their own food are an example of a synergic satisfier that satisfies multiple needs.  Besides providing food that satisfies the Subsistence need to eat and to exercise the body; activities in the garden could also contribute to needs like Protection where users would know they could go to obtain food; Understanding where the gardeners could expand their knowledge of plants and how to grow them, Participation where gardeners could interact with other gardeners, Creation where gardeners could create beautiful gardens, and Freedom where gardeners would be free to grow whatever sorts of plants and food they desired. 

Singular – satisfiers that satisfy only one need and remain neutral as far as serving other needs go.  Welfare sorts of programs where those served are given coupons to buy food at certain markets in order to satisfy one aspect of the subsistence need to eat falls into this category.

Inhibiting – satisfiers that typically over satisfy one need and, in the process, seriously impair the possibility of satisfying other needs.  A diet consisting of mostly junk food might satisfy the caloric intake requirements for the subsistence need, but in the process other nutritional requirements are ignored and non-nutritional additives to the junk food contribute to the unset of health consuming diseases like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure;  which then consume the consumer, their resources, and their ability to participate in processes that would satisfy other more important needs.

Pseudo – satisfiers that stimulate a false sensation of satisfying a given need, and oftentimes pursuit of the pseudo-satisfaction prevents the real need from being satisfied.  Contributions to parasitic charitable institutions would be an example of this where the contributor believes their monetary contribution is in part satisfying their own needs for Affection and Participation by showing they care by helping to pay for poor folks to get access to food, clothing or shelter to satisfy their Subsistence needs.  In the end, much of the money ends up padding the pockets of the administrators of the acts of charity, and the other real humans are left with their needs mostly unmet.

Violators and Destructors – satisfiers mostly aimed at meeting the need for Protection, that when applied not only annihilate the possibility of satisfaction of the Protection need, but also render the satisfaction of other needs impossible.  Use of pesticides and herbicides on factory farms as a way of Protecting access to Subsistence satisfiers of food not only kills the unwanted weeds and insect pests, it can kill or seriously impair the farmworkers, their neighbors, the other creatures in the environment, and the consumers of the poisoned food, thereby preventing those folks from satisfying other important needs.   

For a more detailed explanation of Max-Neef’s ideas on human needs, refer to his books: ECONOMICS UNMASKED, HUMAN SCALE DEVELOPMENT, and REAL-LIFE ECONOMICS. In the book ECONOMICS UNMASKED, Max-Neef and coauthor Phillip B. Smith laid out how the growth obsessed economics of our corporate controlled world was poisoning the biosphere, exhausting the planet's natural resources, making the already rich and powerful more wealthy, and combined with growth in human population destroying the habitats of other species.  This conclusion had a similar ring to what Greenleaf was experiencing and hoped to address in his SERVANT AS LEADER essay.  Towards the end of the essay he pointed out that his goal at the time was to make changes to a society plagued by “the disposition to venture into immoral and senseless wars, destruction of the environment, poverty, alienation, discrimination, overpopulation” which existed because of “human failures”, and in particular failures in the dominate leaders of society. 

It is my opinion, for whatever that is worth, that the problems Greenleaf was trying to address 50 years ago, have not gotten better, but exponentially worse.  And it is because of this that I find it dangerous when people in leadership positions today try to cloak their own leader-first styles with the moniker of “servant leadership” while they ignore the impacts of their institutions on real people.   As a possible route to avoiding this ignorant form of leadership, I propose that Greenleaf’s concept of the manifestation of servant leadership via focusing on “people's highest priority needs” and determining what the impact of the actions of leadership are on people becoming “more autonomous”, be combined with Max-Neef’s ideas on Human Scale Development focused on “satisfaction of fundamental human needs” and increasing people's autonomy.   In the next part of this evaluation, I will attempt to apply this refined “best test” to CEO Todd Teske’s Briggs and Stratton Corporation. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019


Servant-leader Best Test (Or How to Analysis the Walk of the Talker)

Previously in this series, we reviewed Todd Teske's tales of his ascent to the servant leader throne while serving as CEO of Briggs and Stratton Corporation.  To really figure out where leaders like Teske fall on the leadership ladder, Robert Greenleaf in his wisdom proposed a test, which is often referred to as “the best test“ of the servant-leader.  The test could be used to determine whether a leader was leader-first or servant-first.  Here is a repeat of the test that comes from Greenleaf’s THE SERVANT AS LEADER essay: 

The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.  The best test, and most difficult to administer, is this:  Do those served grow as persons?  Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?

In all the talks I have heard or books I have read, from self-proclaimed servant leader CEO-types, I do not recall the talkers sharing any “best test” results backing up their claims.  One explanation for a lack of test results might be as Greenleaf pointed – the difficulty in administering the test.  There may also be some confusion on the part of the CEO’s on whether they should only apply the test to their private lives by focusing on the warm and tender love they have for their families, and ignoring the test when it comes to understanding the impacts of the tough love tactics they need to apply when running a profit driven corporation whose primary test is limited to shareholder value.

Despite the legal protections offered the corporations in granting the institution virtual “personhood” status and at the same time shielding the real people who actually run the corporation (or profit from it) from responsibility for the “corporate” actions, Greenleaf did not recommend a separate easier to pass test for such folks when it came to the servant-leader status.  He did however recommend a restructuring of the corporate hierarchy in which the CEO be replaced by a first-among-equals type of board of peers. 

This idea was highlighted in the second of Greenleaf’s “servant-essays” titled THE INSTITUTION AS SERVANT.  In the section headed “Organization: Some Flaws in the Concept of the Single Chief” he clarified that “To be a lone chief atop a pyramid is abnormal and corrupting.”   He goes on to point out many reasons why the lone wolf corporate CEO does not make a good leader, which I summarize as the pyramid structure isolates the chief from the reality of what is going on at the bottom of the pyramid.  This unbalanced power structure results in a top-down one-way dominated communication, no matter how hard the CEO tries to listen to the soft distorted echoes from below that might somehow reach the high tower that holds the ears of the CEO. 

In the end, the biggest difficulty I see in administering the best-test to the CEO-led corporation is in accepting the reality of the answers and what those answers would lead the administrator to conclude about the outcomes of the practices of the CEO-led institution as a whole.  For I believe that it is the structure of the institution (which meets the specifications of those who benefit the most from such a design), which determines the outcomes, and not who the leader is or what leadership style he or she professes to follow.  For as someone once said power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, at least a long as power is doled out to a few foolish leaders, who are unable or unwilling to hear or see what is happening below them. 

When your world is defined by the blinders of shareholder value, despite what your mission may say, awareness on other impacts of the corporate-leadership style are not possible.  And I would argue that CEO’s and the Corporations they lead would fail the best-test with flying colors every time they took it.  In other words, the CEO’s have mastered the fine art of talking the talk of servant leadership, but they are unable to walk the walk when it comes to passing the best test. 

Since Corporations like to hide behind their personhood status when it comes to responsibility, I believe it is more meaningful to apply Greenleaf’s “best test” to the Corporate-Leadership “person” than the leadership style of the figurehead CEO and his family oriented life guided by love-leadership, who seem to come and go with the changing tide or the ups and downs of the market.  That leads me to PartIV of this topic where I will attempt to apply the best-test as best as I can to the walk of the corporate-person of Briggs and Stratton Corporation, as led by its Chief Executive Officer Todd Teske, which is easier said than done. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019


Todd Teske’s Servant LeadershipTalk (With Tom Talking Between The Lines)

In Part I of this topic, I provided a lead-in regarding how to determine if a leader is a servant as told by Robert Greenleaf.  Following that introduction, here is Tom’s two cents – on multimillionaire CEO Todd Teske’s talk on what he calls his servant leader journey, for what it is worth. 

At his first job out of school at Arthur Anderson (the accounting firm that found itself in hot-water for cooking the books for Enron) Teske’s motivation was to “make money” and to “show the world I was going to make it”.  He continued down that path while at Arthur Anderson until he got married and began asking himself “What kind of life do I want?” His answer in part was to “save up enough money to buy a house and have a foundation to start a family”.  Then his daughter was born and “all of sudden this bundle of joy comes along and now I’ve got responsibility for that”.  And he gave up on “being this driven I wanted the next job, I want the next promotion so I can make more money”, and decided to abandon the sinking ship of Arthur Anderson, to go and work for small engine and associated equipment manufacturer, Briggs and Stratton Corporation.    

While at Briggs, his son was born, and Teske continued refining his leadership style to one that mirrored his family life.  Teske believed that “servant leadership starts with parenting.  It starts with your family.  Leading your family.”  As his kids grew and entered the world of after school sporting events to learn the fine art of competition, Teske wanted “to be that dad who was there for his family” and make it to those after school baseball games and swim meets to watch their failures and successes unfold. 

He built on his family-first leadership style when he was promoted to President of the Products Group at Briggs. Starting out in that role he asked himself “What does a President do?” and realized he didn’t want to “go out and tell everybody what to do , because I have no idea what they should do”.  He choose the non-command and control method (the stick instead of the carrot?) path of focusing on trying to be “helpful”.  Being helpful to him meant getting “out of my office” and “sitting in meetings” where he “didn’t say much and listened a lot” and “then started offering suggestions”.  “And all of a sudden the people went; ok this is sort of interesting”.  And even though Teske’s tells us that his suggestions apparently didn’t have anything to do with the turnaround, he takes credit with the team by proclaiming, “we turned the business around”. 

Teske doesn’t tell us what that turnaround entailed, but the team-led results apparently played a role in getting the President of the Products Group promoted to Corporate “Chief Operating Officer and all this other stuff”.  It was there he “learned a lot along the way as a servant leader”.  He also does not tell us what sort of rewards the rest of the team received for their part in the turnaround, but maybe it is safe to assume they got to keep their jobs on the team, or at least most of them did if they survived any future downsizing or streamlining that might play out, or perhaps it is better not to jump to those sorts of conclusions.  The servant leader he was then was profoundly promoted to the CEO of Briggs where he was “ultimately now being in charge, being the CEO of a 2-billion-dollar company – and understanding at the time that there is 7000 people that now relied on me!”

He made light of his new found power position by joking with his now much bigger “team” that his real job was to “shake hands, kiss babies, cut ribbons, and give speeches”.  But then he would clarify for them, after the laughter and after shutting the plant down and making all the workers come out and shut-up and listen to his speech, that – ”You are the people on a day in and day out basis that, you are the ones that matter, whether we are doing good in the world.  I can make decisions, but ultimately what it comes down to is the decisions you make on a day to day basis, making those engines, making those products, that is really what matters.”  And switching hats from the servant leader to the mission-driven-leader he also told them – “ You’re the ones that fulfill our mission of providing power to people to get work done and make their lives better.”, which I wonder if the Briggs advertising teams ever looked into making a jingle out of based on the song POWER TO THE PEOPLE by John Lennon.  That mission also makes mowing the lawn or snow blowing the driveway sound pretty darn revolutionary and important. 

The workers apparently went back to the assembly line making engines with renewed zest and zeal and Teske tried to figure out what to do about all the new potential pesky perks his latest promotion offered. “Because all of a sudden, I started getting all these people inviting me to these cool things.  The Masters, I am a big golfer, I love golf.  I am terrible at it, but I love it.  The Kentucky Derby, the Packers in the Super Bowl.”  Regrettably, despite how much people wanted him, and cared about what he had to say, his passion for competitive professional sports would have to be put on hold as he was not able to “go to any of those, because they violate our integrity policy.” 

At first I felt a bit sorry for Teske at having to turn down all the free tickets, but realized that if he really wanted to go, he probably could have afforded to buy his own tickets (probably even in the luxury boxes, not the cheap bleacher seats) with the new found good fortune of the multi-milliondollar compensation  that came with the CEO title and the restrictive integrity policy.  Teske concluded this phase of his leadership journey tale by throwing at the audience the other sorry side of being a CEO – “You know CEO’s as a group are just slightly above politicians when it comes to respect and values and everything else, except individually people show you a lot of respect, wow I must be really important.”  I was wondering if he ever asked himself why that was the case – the lack of respect for the CEO issue, not his new found realization of the importance of CEO’s.

Teske’s struggles with power along his path to leadership, and the bragging he heard from former CEO’s, taught him to tell people that “being a CEO is what I do, […] not who I am!  Who I am is a leader, a servant-leader.  Who I am hopefully is a really good dad.  Who I am is hopefully a really good husband.  Who I am is somebody who wants to do things in the community to make the community better.”  And with a tip of his servant leader hat to the remaining workers at Briggs and Stratton, he pointed out that “at the end of the day it is about all these people that work at Briggs and Stratton today.  It is about all these people in the community who want to do good things in the community to make the communities better.”  He didn’t mention it, but an internet search reveals that during his tenure as CEO, employment had gone down from the 7000 folks who he said worked for Briggs in 2010 when he started, to just over 5000 in 2019 when he gave the talk.  My guess is that the 2000 or so folks who lost their jobs while Teske was out “kissing babies, cutting ribbons, and making speeches” probably weren’t integral to the “doing great things” that Briggs and Stratton was all about on that day. 

The grand finale of Teske’s talk was another tip of the hat to the Big CEO in the Sky who seems to be his ultimate guide in leadership.  In the beginning of his talk he temped the audience to listen to the rest of his talk by sharing from this ultimate source – “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy, but don’t love, I am nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.  If I speak God’s word with power revealing all His mysteries and making everything plain as day, if I have faith to say to a mountain “jump” and it jumps, but I don’t love I am nothing. “  He put his love-leader hat back on and wrapped things up by revealing that the opening  quote was from 1st Corinthians Chapter 13 as cited in the “MISSION” and that the final verses reminded the listener-reader that “’love never gives up’, and there it is – ‘Love cares more for others than for self. ‘“

Teske didn’t clarify what his reference to the “MISSION” was, but it might be the book MISSION-DRIVEN LEADERSHIP – MY JOURNEY AS A RADICAL CAPITOLIST written by Mark Bertolini the  former Chairman and CEO of Aetna(the large health insurance agency who took away Bertolini’s CEO title after merging with CVS pharmacy).  Bertolini’s tale of CEO success and failure was apparently shaped in part by his own run-ins with mountains where he suffered serious injuries in a downhill skiing accident that forced him to rethink his own motivations as CEO.  Bertolini chose the more eastern-empire inspired paths of yoga and meditation to guide him to his tough-love or mission-driven leadership practice.  Unless I decide to go to the market and fork over some cash to get Bertolini’s book I may never know for sure where Teske got his inspiration for the Corinthian quote.  Doing a search for the term “love-leader” on the internet reveals that there are quite a few other former CEO types who jumped on the love-leader bandwagon by following the leader Saint Paul who is credited with writing the first guide on the importance of using love to navigate your way to success in the then Roman dominated empire.      

After this analysis of Teske’s talk, what I heard was that he was indeed a typical leader-first (as defined by Robert Greenleaf) power and money motivated guy, just like the rest of his fellow corporate CEOs.  He tried to temper his motivations for material goods, money and power by following policies that portrayed him as loving his family, his teams, and the communities where his corporation resided.  But in the end, money talks and leads to promotions and more money and power, along with some other temptations that should not be mentioned in front of corporate boards.  However, this is not the end of the story, but merely my opinion.  Stay tuned for the next part of this story to be told in a coming post where we will look into Robert Greenleaf’s “best-test” of the servant-leader and figure out if Teske was more of a “creaking gate” or a love-lead-leader.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019


Servant-First Versus Leader-First

Over the years I have read a number of books written by and listened to talks given by Chief Executive Officers of Corporations and other upper management types, who are proud to announce their adoption of the “servant leader” moniker.  It is my opinion that the title proclamation has little if anything to do with the servant-leader as defined by Robert Greenleaf.  Greenleaf came up with the hyphenated version of the name and clarified what he meant by it in his 1970 essay THE SERVANT AS LEADER. 

Greenleaf answered the question “Who Is the Servant-Leader”, by describing two extremes of leadership that he believed existed.  There is the servant-first version where “becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, serve first.  Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”  And then there is the opposite extreme of the leader-first who follows the leadership path because of “the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.  For such people, it will be a later choice to serve – after leadership is established.” 

The other day I received an email from the Wisconsin ServantLeadership group that contained a link to an excerpt from a talk titled Who I Am Vs. What I Do from Ted Teske with the tagline “Servant-Leader and CEO of Briggs & Stratton”.  As a former student of servant leadership, the email perked my interest so I clicked on the link and watched Teske’s talk.  Finding the excerpt interesting, I went to the Wisconsin Servant Leadership’s web page and found another link to Teske’s entire talk and listened to that as well.  You may read a transcript of Teske’s talk that I produced here.   

Teske’s talk provides some good insights into the life and thought of a corporate CEO and how the journey of leadership unfolds based on life changing events.  It also reveals the many leadership hats CEO’s can choose from in adorning their corporate head with as they guide their vessels around or into the rocks. And I also believe it reveals some of the inner motivations of CEO types, and that despite Teske’s claims to servant-leadership fame, he and his fellow CEO’s are really not worthy of the title as defined in the writings of Robert Greenleaf discussed above.  It is my belief that for corporations to be successful in their ultimate mission of serving the share-holder and growing the corporation through profits, mergers, and acquisitions, a leader-first  CEO must follow the path of power, profit, and material possession if they want to succeed in the world controlled by global corporations, even if who they are is not what they do. 

The successful corporate leader needs to be flexible in the image they portray to the selected audience if they hope to remain on top of the ladder, and so they have to be willing to change their leadership hat many times to keep up appearances.  But in the end what the audience should pay attention to is not the hat the leader is wearing, or the talk that they talk, but rather to look back at the path they have followed and find out what has or has not been trampled along the way.  For it is the walk they walk that defines them, not the talk they talk.  More on determining what the CEO walk is, after the talk, which includes some of my color commentary in Part 2 of this topic. 

Monday, November 25, 2019


Ar-ro-gance – a feeling or an impression of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or presumptuous claims

Lead-er – a person who has commanding authority or influence

To proclaim oneself a leader is a declaration of arrogance.  Perhaps the best one can hope for following such a proclamation is for the pro-claimer to profess the arrogance in order to avoiding leading anyone except the leader down the path the leader chooses to follow.  In other words, I best just foolishly follow my own path, and warn the few potential followers of my chosen path of the folly they face in following me.  Anything less is nothing less than something used to lead fish into a trap.